If your organization is struggling with sustainability, then you are doing something wrong. By definition, sustainably is an organization’s capacity (both financially and with other resources) to continue to deliver positive outcomes and meet the needs of their desired population over a long term. Nonprofit sustainability is one of the hottest topics discussed in board and executive team meetings, especially for those who rely on grant dollars to deliver their programs and services. Some leaders are so concerned with sustainability that they no longer apply for grants for fear they cannot sustain their grant-funded programs after the grant ends.
Before you move towards such a drastic approach and limit resources and funds for your great work, look at the following three steps to see if there is something you can be doing differently to secure ongoing funds for your programs. These steps make achieving sustainability stress-free.
- Know Your Results. Nonprofit sustainability goes hand in hand with program outcomes and evaluation. Don’t wait until the end of a grant cycle to share your results. You should be constantly examining, reviewing and communicating your program results to develop enthusiasm. Before any discussion on how to sustain a program is addressed, leaders must know the answers to the following three questions about its effectiveness:
- How is your program solving a need(s) in your community?
- What are the results and outcomes of your program?
- What are the consequences to the community if you no longer delivered these programs and services?
Evaluation and performance management systems are required to successfully answer these questions. Organizations need to collect systematic data aligned with these questions. Without data, it is more difficult to raise the support and the funds you need for your programs. Simply put, funders want to fund what works. Know the facts about what you want to sustain and why it matters. This review of “what works” allows you to lighten your load by stopping the things that are not working. Stop trying to sustain the things that are not helping you achieve your mission.
- Know Your Partners. Once you know that your programs are making differences and that they are worth sustaining, the next step is to determine who else that would be interested in the results. The following questions are essential to this process:
- Who else is trying to solve this problem or issue that your program demonstrates proven results?
- Is your program or service solving a need for a local or state funder?
- What other community leaders, philanthropists, corporations, or community foundations are passionate about your solutions?
By aligning your programs’ results with others who are also achieving success, you will get you more “yeses” for partnerships and funding. When you bring your successful programs to those most interested in the cause, nonprofit sustainability becomes easy.
- Communicate Your Success. Once you have identified potential partners and understand your results, create communication packages that align your results and stories with your partners’ needs and goals. This can include short summaries identifying the needs that your program fills, how your program addresses these needs, and the specific results that your organization achieves. You may also choose to create videos or gather client stories as examples of the outcomes experienced. Funders will appreciate your thoughtfulness and will be delighted to partner with an organization who can demonstrate how you are going to solve the problem that they too, are passionately working to solve.
Nonprofit sustainability is finding funding for what works. When organizations view their evaluation and outcomes data as critical components to sustainably, they will be much more successful in receiving the ongoing support to continue to deliver their programs and services. In fact, you may find that partners and organizations will approach you to help continue to deliver these great services.
If you are struggling with sustainability, take a step back and assess how well you are using your programs results. Examine the needs of funders before searching for ways to continue your efforts. If you have some stories about how these steps have worked for you, please share them in the comments section below.
Want more information on how to use evaluation and outcome measures to drive sustainability? Join the Achieving Excellence Community and receive our free eBook, Ten Tips to Open Doors to More Grants (and Other Funding): Overcoming Common Mistakes of Outcomes Measurement. Are you interested in assistance with your next evaluation or outcome measurement system? Measurement Resources is here to help! Contact us today for your free 20-minute strategy session.